COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's state-owned utility voted Monday to stop building two billion-dollar nuclear reactors, likely ending the project that has been beset by delays and cost overruns.
The reactors were set to be among the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in decades.
Santee Cooper's board said the decision to end construction will save customers an estimated $7 billion. The utility had already spent $5 billion, and completing the project would have cost an additional $8 billion and $3.4 billion in interest. It also likely wouldn't be finished until 2024. The first reactor was supposed to be online in August 2019.
Santee Cooper owns 45 percent of the project. South Carolina Electric & Gas owns 55 percent. Santee Cooper chief executive Lonnie Carter said he expected SCE&G to make a similar announcement soon.
"It became obvious to us" to end construction, Carter said.
The project has been shrouded in doubt since earlier this year, when primary contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection.
The utilities announced last week that Westinghouse's parent company, Toshiba Corp., agreed to jointly pay them $2.2 billion regardless of whether the reactors are ever completed.
The reactors were planned for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia. Construction began with state approval in 2009, and the project was so far about one-third completed.
Environmental groups have called on state regulators to order SCE&G to abandon the projects. They also want customers to be refunded at least some of the billions they'd paid upfront through rates that have increased yearly since 2009.
A 2007 state law allows electric utilities to collect money from customers to finance a project before it generates power. Construction now accounts for 18 percent of the electric bills of SCE&G's residential customers.
Santee Cooper has increased rates five times to pay for the escalating costs. But the Public Service Commission has no authority over the state-owned utility.
The commission has set a hearing on the environmental group's request for October.
Whether the commission can order the utility to refund customers and how much are matters of debate. That could require proof the utility gave regulators faulty information.
Last month, Toshiba agreed to pay $3.7 billion toward two nuclear reactors in Georgia that also were being built by Westinghouse.
This story has corrected that the first reactor was supposed to be online in 2019, not this year.